Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, [date unknown]. Interview A-0140. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Sanford learned to avoid racialized discussions in the public arena

Sanford describes his political ascension through the ranks of established Democratic Party organizations. From his work with previous campaigns, Sanford learned to avoid the intense focus on race by diverting the public's attention to other issues.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, [date unknown]. Interview A-0140. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Can I interrupt for just a minute with a question? Did that come as a great surprise to people like you, who had supported Graham, that there was this much force involved in the race issue? That the politics of fear, in a sense, which was at that time relatively new, that that was a great factor that had come. . . .?
I was president of the Young Democrats and I'd gotten more involved than I should have been involved statewide. And I had especially gotten involved in Cumberland County, where I was new. I had been there about a year and a half, or two years, but I wanted to do what I could at every level. And not only did I help in the county, but I picked a precinct, Cumberland Mills, and learned how to work a precinct, among other things. And I knew at the end of the first primary that this race issue would just tear us to pieces in the second primary. We had seen enough of it, as they had seen enough of it. They were determined to use it, and I was just certain that it would tear us to pieces. I went down and I worked those . . . a mill village house by house. They'd voted for Willis Smith in the first primary against that communist Graham. In the second primary it was one of the few precincts, and probably the only mill precinct, that switched over to Graham. Which proves the value of close precinct organization work, I thought. Yes, I was not surprised at the second primary, and I was hoping against hope that we would get over 50% in the first primary. I was afraid of the issue. I kept a little notebook as I went along, about how to counteract these things, because Frank Graham was such a gentle person that he would not counterattack in any way. And I concluded that you had to counterattack on some other issue, and divert their attention from this issue. And I made a lot of notes. And when I ended up in a similar situation, the first thing I did was, at the beginning of the second primary, was to go to Fayetteville and get my little notebook I'd kept ten years earlier. And there were a lot of good points that I use. But it did turn there. The next time we had it was '54.
Do you recall some of those good points?
Well, I think basically . . . well, I had written a lot of statements that could be used to justify being fair to people in an aggressive way instead of a gentle way like Frank Graham did. By that time I accused Lake of closing the public schools, he having made statements to that effect. I accused him of running industry away and had films and statements from Arkansas to prove it. I accused him of voting Republican in the last three elections. He had to take up a lot of time answering those things and, you know, getting off with me. He put out a leaflet saying that I'd gotten the block votes. This was a technique in the Graham campaign, showing the black precincts of the cities. Graham 972, Reynolds 1, Smith 0, and that type of thing. So he put that statement out on me, and I said that's . . . I got all I could get, and I'd have gotten them all if I could, but all you've got to do is look and see that Seawell got the black vote in Durham. He got it because I didn't try to get it. I wanted him to have it, knowing something about the experience that Frank Graham had had. I felt it'd be better if I didn't have all those votes, because Lake could use that in the second primary. I said Larkin's got the black vote in Asheville, which is true, because at that time that was pretty much of a controlled vote, and controlled mostly by the sheriff who was for Larkin. And I was reasonably sure he'd gotten it. And I said Dr. Lake got all the black vote in Iredell County. Well, it took him a week to sputter and spew and try to challenge that and deny it . . . and he got off of me for a week, cause we only had four weeks . . . deny that he got the black vote in Iredell County. Well, I don't know whether you could identify the black vote, but he had his greatest friend up there, and supporter, who had a reputation for buying the black vote in 1960, and I think he probably did. In any event I didn't get very many votes in Iredell County. But the point is, that was one of the things of being more aggressive in attacking him, to take the race issue out of the campaign as such. And then I was determined that I had to go ahead and win by not compromizing on the question of the black man's position in society, because this was, I thought, a historic moment in North Carolina's history. That winning wasn't nearly as important as holding that flag in the right posture, so that, if we did win, it was a great victory undoing what had happened ten years earlier. Want some more coffee?